In re Miller, 012021 MNSC, A19-0372

Docket NºA19-0372
Opinion JudgeCHUTICH, JUSTICE
Party NameIn re the Matter of: Rodney Tristan Miller, Respondent, v. Pamela Marie Miller, n/k/a Pamela Marie Spera, Appellant, Maria Molloy, intervenor, Respondent.
AttorneyPamela M. Spera, Eden Prairie, Minnesota, pro se. David M. Cox, Two Rivers Law P.A., Otsego, Minnesota, for respondent Maria Molloy.
Case DateJanuary 20, 2021
CourtSupreme Court of Minnesota

In re the Matter of: Rodney Tristan Miller, Respondent,

v.

Pamela Marie Miller, n/k/a Pamela Marie Spera, Appellant,

Maria Molloy, intervenor, Respondent.

No. A19-0372

Supreme Court of Minnesota

January 20, 2021

Court of Appeals Office of Appellate Courts

Pamela M. Spera, Eden Prairie, Minnesota, pro se.

David M. Cox, Two Rivers Law P.A., Otsego, Minnesota, for respondent Maria Molloy.

SYLLABUS

Respondent is entitled to intervene as a matter of right under Minnesota Rule of Civil Procedure 24.01 because her minor daughter has an interest in the retirement accounts that are the subject of appellant's enforcement action. Respondent's right to intervene is limited specifically to the valuation of the accounts.

Affirmed as modified.

OPINION

CHUTICH, JUSTICE

This case presents the question of whether a third party can intervene as a matter of right in a proceeding to enforce a 14-year-old divorce decree ("Decree"). Appellant Pamela Marie Spera1 (Spera) sought enforcement of the Decree that dissolved her marriage to Rodney Miller, seeking specifically to have the retirement accounts she and Miller each held divided according to the terms of the Decree. Neither party had divided their accounts at the time, as the Decree required, while Miller was still alive. Instead, before he passed away in 2018, Miller named his four daughters-his three children with Spera, and one child with respondent Maria Molloy ("Molloy")-as beneficiaries of his retirement accounts. Molloy is the mother of Miller's youngest daughter, K.M.M., a minor. Molloy sought to intervene in Spera's enforcement proceeding as a matter of right to assert K.M.M.'s interest in Miller's retirement accounts.

The district court denied intervention, finding that under the Decree, Spera had a superior interest in the accounts and that K.M.M.'s interest attached only after the property division required by the Decree took place. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the four requirements under Minn. R. Civ. P. 24.01 for intervention were met. We conclude that Molloy has satisfied the standard for intervention as of right under Rule 24.01 of the Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure. Because we hold that Molloy's right to intervene is narrower than the court of appeals held, we affirm as modified.

FACTS

Rodney Miller and Pamela Spera were married in September 1981. They had three daughters together and subsequently separated in July 1999. When they dissolved their marriage in May 2004, Miller and Spera each owned several retirement accounts. Miller owned five accounts: one each at Vanguard, Fidelity Investments, and Dreyfus Founders Funds, and two at American Century. Spera owned four accounts: one at Fidelity Investments and three at American Century.

The Decree ordered the parties to divide their interests in the accounts equally: 28. Retirement Accounts - By virtue of the divorce decree and judgment entered on this day dissolving the bonds of marriage existing between the Petitioner and Respondent, along with this Order, the parties are ordered by the court to divide equally between themselves their interests in all of the above retirement accounts, by transferring one-half of the interest in each of the parties' individual accounts to the other party, pursuant to the divorce decree and judgment. The value of the accounts is to be determined at the time of the division of the accounts, which shall be done within 30 days of the date of this Order.

The Decree also ordered the parties to cooperate in making the conveyances required under paragraph 28: 36. Execution and Exchange of Documents - To implement the terms and provisions contained herein, each of the parties shall make, execute and deliver to the other party instruments of conveyance, assignment and other documents as may be required. In the event either party fails to do so, the Judgment and Decree shall operate as said conveyance.

And the Decree reserved jurisdiction for the district court to distribute assets that were not properly divided: 37. Retention of Jurisdiction - In the event there are assets or income which have not been disclosed and/or divided herein, the court shall retain jurisdiction over said income and/or assets for the purpose of making an equitable division thereof. The party failing to disclose said income and/or assets shall pay the reasonable attorney fees and costs of the other party incurred in enforcing this provision.

Miller and Spera never divided and transferred the one-half interests in their respective retirement accounts.

In 2012, Miller and Molloy had a daughter, K.M.M.[2] After K.M.M.'s birth, Miller changed the beneficiary designation on his retirement accounts so that each of his four children would receive a percentage of the accounts upon his death. Spera was not included as a designated beneficiary on any of the accounts. Miller died in February 2018, without a will.

On June 22, 2018, Spera filed a motion to enforce the Decree and to divide the retirement accounts. She requested an order enforcing paragraphs 28 and 36 of the Decree and holding the Decree to be in full force and effect concerning the division of the parties' interests in the retirement accounts. Spera also requested that the value of the retirement accounts be determined as of the date of the new order, excluding any value attributed to contributions that she or Miller made after the date of the Decree.

Molloy moved to intervene on behalf of K.M.M. She argued that intervention as a matter of right is allowed under Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure 24.01, based on K.M.M.'s interest in her late father's retirement accounts. Molloy alternatively requested permissive intervention under Rule 24.02. She also argued that Spera's motion to enforce the Decree should be denied because it was barred by laches and the 10-year statute of limitations under Minn. Stat. § 541.04 (2020). In the alternative, Molloy asked the district court to reserve ruling on Spera's motion pending an exchange of statements for the retirement accounts of Miller and Spera.

The district court denied Molloy's motion to intervene on behalf of K.M.M. The court found that by naming K.M.M. as a designated beneficiary of a portion of the accounts, Miller "acted in contravention to the Judgment and Decree by designating beneficiaries to his account other than Ms. Spera." Citing Luthen v. Luthen, 596 N.W.2d 278 (Minn.App. 1999), the court reasoned that "strong public policy discourages third party intervention in dissolution matters." The court concluded that although K.M.M. "has an interest in the accounts in question, she does not have an interest in the initial division of the accounts within the context of the dissolution" and therefore Molloy could not intervene as a matter of right on K.M.M.'s behalf.

The district court also denied permissive intervention, citing the same public policy considerations, which "supersede[d] Ms. Molloy's interest in ensuring [K.M.M.]'s future interests are protected." The court did not address the merits of Molloy's laches and statute of limitations arguments because it found that she was not a proper intervenor. The court granted Spera's motion for enforcement of the Decree and found that the parties to the dissolution are each entitled to "50% of the retirement accounts pursuant to [paragraph] 28 of the Judgment and Decree" and that the award did not include "any contributions by either party to those accounts after the date of the Judgment and Decree or any...

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